Human Rights Watch Urges Vietnam to End Crackdown on Freedom of Expression

Eugene Whong
vietnam-vy2-080918.jpg Huynh Thuc Vy is shown next to a search warrant served by police on Aug. 9, 2018.
Facebook / Huynh Thuc Vy

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for Vietnamese authorities to drop their case against blogger and human rights advocate Huynh Thuc Vy, who is set to stand trial under under article 276 of the 1999 penal code for allegedly disrespecting the national flag.

The New York-based NGO’s Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said, “It is wrong to put protecting a national symbol first over protecting the rights of the nation’s people.”

According to a previous RFA Vietnamese Service report, Huynh had been arrested on August 9 after refusing a summons by police. Her charges stem from a 2017 incident where she was pictured with a Vietnamese flag that had been splattered with white paint.

Huynh explained on Facebook that the stunt, which occurred one day before Vietnam’s National Day, was a form of protest against the holiday’s celebrations.

“The Nation is bottom-deep in debt! There’s nothing to celebrate for. Formosa; Complete contamination; Cancer; Fake Medicine; Prisoners of Conscience; Human Rights Violations; About to Lose Our Country,” she wrote.

“For years, Vietnam has sought any excuse to punish Huynh Thuc Vy for her tireless advocacy of human rights and democracy, and in their desperation the authorities have now latched on to [this incident],” Robertson said, referring to repeated harassment of both Huynh and her family for not only her activism, but theirs as well.

Huynh is the oldest child of former political prisoner Huynh Ngoc Tuan, who spent ten years in prison in 1992-2002 for sending a novella and several short stories critical of government abroad.

Legacy of Activism

HRW said Huynh Thuc Vy began writing articles online in 2008 advocating for freedom and democracy. She and other activists in 2013 started Vietnamese Women for Human Rights. Huynh, through her writing and social media presence, has been a strong supporter of people detained for peaceful activism.

In 2017, she was listed by the BBC among five women in Asia “who risk their lives for others' rights” and spoke to the British network about her family’s troubles with the one-party communist government in Hanoi.

HRW said Huynh, if convicted, could be imprisoned for up to three years. Her trial is set for November 22 in the People’s Court of Buon Ho town, Dak Lak province.

“Sending Huynh Thuc Vy to court and ultimately prison shows just how desperate Vietnam is to shut down activists in order to limit their influence on society and politics,” said Robertson.

“The EU and other foreign donors and trade partners should call out Vietnam and demand it fulfill its promises to improve its abysmal rights record if it wants closer political and economic relations,” he said.

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